Politics

The reason behind Barnaby Joyce’s social media crackdown

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A few weeks ago, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce took the unfortunate step of elevating into the national conversation some online scuttlebutt about his daughter allegedly having an affair with John Barilaro.

The rumours, which Joyce denies, had already fizzled out without gaining any broader attention before Joyce’s comments catapulted them into national headlines, according to analysis shared with me by QUT senior lecturer Tim Graham.

Joyce said these accusations spurred him to call for a “social media crackdown” on online anonymous accounts. Ironically, the fact that it was a fairly small online rumour that only became noteworthy when a public figure gave it air suggests that Joyce’s concern about @SewerRat420’s tweets to their 69 followers is misplaced (and that he should probably Google “the Streisand effect”).

I have no reason to believe that Joyce wasn’t moved to action by seeing awful allegations spread about his daughter. But this call, soon echoed by the prime minister and other senior government ministers, seemed to crest an existing push within the government to regulate tech, including moves like the Online Safety Act, news media bargaining code, the DIGI disinformation code and the proposed Online Privacy Act.

Why so much interest? My guess is because it’s incredibly politically fertile ground. Everyone uses big tech companies’ products, but they have few defenders — they’re foreign, they don’t pay enough tax, they amplify misinformation and conspiracy theories, they hoover up our personal data. People are worried about how screen time is affecting them and their kids. Most Australians would have little idea about how they actually work.

Don’t just take my word for it:

The nonstop drip of recent Facebook leaks in the media show how the tech giant time and time again sacrificing the safety and wellbeing of its users has eroded what little trust it had left. Yesterday’s spattering of new tech bills, reviews and consultation announcements during what will likely be one of the last few sitting weeks before the election shows this is a priority for the government.

Like I wrote in the first ever WebCam, the government doesn’t have a reputation for being tech savvy a la the “agile” Turnbull era. But its tech policy remains one of the major areas of reform in an otherwise surprisingly bare cupboard of non-COVID-19-related achievements. Plus, there’s not much that political opponents have done or seemingly can do to differentiate themselves in this area.

Keen to brandish their achievements and relishing an opportunity to take a whack at a favourite punching bag, this government is laying the groundwork for a federal election where being tough on tech is one of its major weapons.

Hyperlinks

Who’s spending $10K on anti-Morrison Facebook ads? We don’t know — and that’s a problem
I wrote about a small political Facebook page that popped up out of nowhere, spent five-figures on political ads and disappeared once we shone the spotlight on it. It’s a playbook of how using social media to run a shadowy political influence campaign. (Crikey)

‘Astroturfing’: Experts say fracking website is fake grassroots campaign
Aaaaaand here’s another example of an astroturfed campaign seemingly run by a former Liberal staffer. (The Age)

#JimsJabs campaign participant’s information appropriated by anti-vax groups
Remember that campaign run by Jim Penman that had people post their vaccination details, which I wrote about a few weeks ago? One woman had her details stolen to create a fake vaccine certificate. Yikes. (Mumbrella)

A One Nation senator has grown his Instagram audience from zero to almost 30,000 by hosting livestreams with anti-vax and wellness influencers
Malcolm Roberts has become a social media powerhouse off the back of anti-vaxxer and other fringe content, frequently getting more daily engagements on a post than any other Australian politician. (Business Insider)

‘TimWilsonMP’ banned from editing Wikipedia after trying to get rid of negative news about the MP
To “TimWilsonMP”’s credit, they did take the effort to try do things above board. But it does show how influential Wikipedia can be to shaping the public perception of a politician. (Crikey)

Content Corner

I want to share a digital palate cleanser: meet @mish.the.cool.granny. She’s an Australian widowed grandmother who loves to paint. She also has a TikTok account with almost 500,000 followers. Mish only posted six videos over the course of a couple of weeks. In September, a video about missing her late husband went viral and now has been viewed more than 55.7 million times.

@mish.the.cool.granny (Image: TikTok)

She seems sweet, totally unaccustomed to the internet, and reminds me of my late grandmother.

There’s two things that I think are particularly noteworthy about mish.the.cool.granny. Firstly her sudden viral fame hasn’t changed her at all. Unlike other creators who start producing more polished content or selling merch, she seems unphased. She posted a video where her granddaughter is laughing as she says she has 40 likes, then — after being corrected — 400,000 likes. (Her videos have 14 million and counting.) Her account remains a pretty low-key affair, and has been dormant for almost half of its two month existence.

@mish.the.cool.granny (Image: TikTok)

Secondly, it’s a great example of just how opaque TikTok is. It’s hard to think of another major platform where someone could have such viral success that wouldn’t be noticed elsewhere. TikTok appears to be her only account. I think this first time anyone has written about her.

Mish’s success reminds me of an earlier time on the internet where fame seemed more fleeting. If you went viral, you didn’t grow your Facebook following or mail list. It just passed over you like a wave. Certainly creators should be able to capitalise on attention and “get that bread” but sometimes it does feel a bit ick when you see “TikTok couch guy”’s girlfriend capitalise on the drama to start selling shirts (if the last part makes sense to you, congratulations you’re online).

By ignoring it all and just doing her thing, Mish is really living up to her handle as the cool granny.

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Peter Fray

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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